EACH Saturday, Piccadilly Pop Up’s artists and writers at the old Tax Office at 23, Piccadilly, York, open up their shared studio as a gallery.
From 12 noon to 6pm, the public can view and buy paintings, drawings, graffiti, murals, fine art, sculpture, prints, postcards, collage and poetry. Entry is free, no ticket or booking is required, and Covid safety precautions are in place.
Piccadilly Pop Up is operating as part of Uthink PDP (People Developing People), a charity that is borrowing the building from City of Council until its redevelopment.
Uthink does all kinds of social work up and down the country, not least renting such premises to artists at affordable rates to help fund its activities.
“Eventually, however, we will be given one month’s notice and lose our studios,” says Richard Kitchen, one of the pop-up founders and artists. “Suitable premises are increasingly hard to find, let alone afford, both despite and also because of the amount of redevelopment going on in the city.
“Many artists in York have private means, but what about those who don’t? Some of us at Piccadilly Pop Up work there full time, the complication being that we do not necessarily make ‘commercial’ work, yet depend on sales to make a living.
“Our angle is that living artists are a vibrant part of the cultural attraction of York and should be valued and nurtured. We feel the council would benefit from providing for creatives who show initiative and enterprise as part of the city’s resources. Artists are an asset!”
After that rallying call, CharlesHutchPress felt compelled to pop down questions aplenty for Richard [@richardkitchenart] on the present and hopefully the future of Pop Up Piccadilly as he seeks to address what he calls “an imbalance in the council’s priorities”.
When did Piccadilly Pop Up start and who has been the driving force?
“The charity Uthink PDP moved into the vacant former Tax Office at 23 Piccadilly two years ago, putting on a photographic exhibition and some workshops and renting studio space in the building to artists until its redevelopment.
“Since then, quite a few artists have joined and some have gone, mainly due to Covid. Now there are four core artists working there, who have been running the Saturday open days off and on since August 2020.
“We’re a team. Steve Beadle and I look after promotion, publicity and networking; Terry Aaron takes on the upkeep of the building and Patrick Dalton designs our flyers and posters. Some tasks require more time than others, but it takes everyone to make it work.”
How long do you have left at the former Tax Office before needing to move elsewhere?
“All we know is that at some point we will be given one month’s notice to clear out. Uthink took over the premises from the council on a temporary basis but it has now been sold to developers.”
Despite being a pop-up, will the aim be to have a permanent base?
“We hope so. It’s as permanent as possible in Piccadilly although sadly it can’t be permanently permanent. The name was chosen because Uthink often do pop-ups in various cities and we weren’t sure how long we’d be there.
“It sounds a bit lightweight, but people know us by that name now, so it’s better not to change it until we have to move. We open the entire first floor as a public gallery every Saturday.”
How may an artist become involved in Piccadilly Pop-Up?
“Most of the display space is spoken for right now, certainly the walls. We make a lot of work and some of it’s quite big! We have a couple of students from York St John helping out on Saturdays and they also have some pieces on show. One will be renting studio space with us too.
“We do show work by guest artists sometimes and we like to encourage people and make new connections, so the best thing would be to get in touch and enquire via facebook.com/piccadillypopupart.”
How many artists are involved at present?
“Eight people work and/or exhibit there, including the four core members. Between us, we produce a wide range of work: painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, murals, graffiti, street art, photography, prints and even poetry and history books!!”
What is the mission statement of Piccadilly Pop Up?
“As well as supporting Uthink’s own practice, I’d say our mission is to enhance cultural life in the city, to promote art as a living, relevant force and to make it accessible to as wide a range of people as possible.
“By doing that, we’re not only providing entertainment and stimulus but also contributing to people’s wellbeing and positive outlook in terms of mental health and social values. We’re showing what can be achieved when a creative, community-minded enterprise takes over a space that is otherwise going to waste. We’re setting an example for others to follow.
Who is involved in the Uthink PDP charity?
“PDP stands for People Developing People. Uthink started as a charity in 2012, giving opportunities to disadvantaged young people and the homeless to encourage and enable them to find their feet.
“Among other good works, it takes over buildings like ours and rents studio space to local artists at affordable rates. It started operating in York in July 2019.
“Gary Pate is the managing director and our main contact. We’re privileged to be part of such a generous, forward-thinking, grassroots organisation and proud to contribute to its work. We give Uthink a percentage of any sales we make.”
How will you make your case to City of York Council for premises for York artists? Sadly, Bar Lane Studios have closed, but PICA Studios run from Grape Lane and Westside Artists have formed a collective, with Southlands Methodist Church as a fulcrum. What would suit you best to complement these studio spaces?
“These are our thoughts at the moment: Uthink rents out studio space at deliberately affordable rates, which means we can make the work we want to make without necessarily bowing to commercialism.
“The irony is that we tend to sell a lot less than other galleries, partly because our work differs from what one normally sees in York galleries and pop-ups, and partly because Piccadilly – at least beyond Spark: York – is slightly off the beaten track, unless you’re a Wetherspoons client!
“So, it’s all a bit ‘Catch 22’. We’re quite unique in that, unlike many artists in York and elsewhere, most of us do not have private means or other jobs and cannot afford the rents that other places charge. We aren’t ‘weekend artists’.
“Two of us do a dedicated 9-till-5 stint (or more) at the studio every day and one often works late at night, but it’s all unpaid. We either compromise and make stuff to sell – the production line of making variations on what you know is popular – or we stay true to ourselves, value our integrity and creativity, and risk getting nothing in return.
“It’s not that the work is weird or bad or ‘difficult’, far from it, but it isn’t mainstream. I’d say we’re a very interesting place to visit for that reason and we should appeal to a wider audience than regular gallery-goers, but because of our location it’s not that easy to attract visitors.”
The solution is…?
“Could City of York Council develop the mindset to see artists like us as assets to the city and its cultural appeal? We think we can contribute a lot to a positive experience of the city for both tourists and residents.
“With all the development going on and what many residents see as an emphasis on money-making and tourism at the expense of much else, could a few buildings be earmarked by the council for use by artists, at least temporarily?
“At the moment, organisations such as Uthink and Blank Canvas find such places when they can and charge what they feel is appropriate, but there are surely more opportunities out there.
“If it were an initiative on the part of the council to offer premises to genuinely needy and enterprising artists at rock-bottom rates, there would be so many vibrant things going on. Why not promote art as a living, thriving, meaningful cultural force in the city that can enhance being in York for residents as well as visitors?”
Over to you, City of York Council. Pass on the baton, not the buck.
Here are the key Instagram links for the Piccadilly Pop Up enterprise: